Playing with f1.4 - because I can!

Sooo.....after much waiting, my sparkly new Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens arrived last week, and the weekend gave me the chance to put it through its paces. What a cracking lens!

Having never shot at f/1.4, I can definitely say it's going to get some getting used to. The manual focus isn't as much of a problem as I thought it might be - it's more of an issue getting the right things into focus at such shallow depth of field.

This series of images shows how the lens blurs the background, and creates bokeh at different apertures. I'm really impressed with the vibrant colours the lens captures. The first image shows my bungled attempt to get anything much into focus (I still like the colours), but the flowers in the foreground get sharper around the f/2 - f/4 range, and the background starts to come to life at around f/8.

Anyway, I'm loving the lens so far - more practice definitely required! And now it's time to get cracking on my 100 Strangers project :)

85mm @ f1.4
85mm @ f/2
85mm @ f/2.8

85mm @ f/4

85mm @ f/8

Zite - a fast way to consume all sorts of news!

I'm loving my iPad! As well as subscribing to a bunch of photography magazines through the Zinio App, I now subscribe to a bunch of photography resources via the Zite App.

Zite aggregates news from my RSS feed and presents it in my own tailored magazine style format on the iPad. I use Google Reader to manage my RSS feeds, and have subscribed to a number of feeds from photography blogs and websites which have interested me over the last few years.

Once you give Zite access to your Google Reader account, it "discovers" your interests based on the feeds you subscribe to, then goes out to the big wide Interwebs to find similar sites from all over the world. It seems to update news items every time you open the App, so there is never any shortage of things to read!!

As well as being FREE, I love Zite because it drags images from the stories, and really presents it like a magazine, rather than a large stream of text. Zite exposes me to sources which I might not have otherwise found, and I love the fact that it sources them from everywhere.

Here's a screen shot of what Zite returned in my photography stream this evening. I also have sections for marketing, social media, traveling, technology and gadgets - its like my own tailored news streams.

I'm also loving the iPad and the fact that my home remains connected while I change broadband providers. Gotta love that!

So - if you want a great app to manage all your sources of information about photography (and anything else of interest to you), check out Zite.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

And so begins my 100 Strangers project!

As soon as I take delivery of my snazzy new Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/85 lens, I've decided to kick off my next photography challenge - a 100 Strangers project.

I love the idea of photography challenges. In 2010, I started a 365 Challenge, where I took a photo (more or less) every day for a year. I learnt so much about my camera gear, different techniques and the type of photos I most like taking - and have been keen to do another challenge of sorts, but I wanted this one to be different.

The Zeiss 85mm lens is sold as a classic portrait lens, and will be perfect for my 100 Strangers project. I'm going to try to shoot the entire project with this lens on my 5D (or a 7D if I buy one before the project ends).

The idea of this project is simply to approach 100 Strangers (over no specific time frame), ask permission to take their photograph, publish the photo on Flickr (and this blog) and write up a bit about their story. The photojournalistic nature of this project really appeals to me, as does the idea of practicing portrait photography in a range of situations.

I'm sure that like the 365 Challenge, there will be ups and downs in my 100 Strangers project. I'm sure there will be photos I love, as well as photos that I later wonder what I was thinking - it's all part of the learning process. There's even a Flickr group for people to share their 100 Strangers project photos and experiences.

Anyway, I can't wait to start. Here's a promotional photo used on the Zeiss site for the 85mm lens. Now - I just to get the lens (4 days and counting!) and find my first stranger :)

Photo Copyright Rene Budde as shown on

Waiting...waiting for my new lens. Hello ZEISS!

It's been a long time between lens purchases, and as much as I love my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L lenses, I've been debating whether to get a specialist macro lens (such as the Canon EF MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro lens or the Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/100) or a faster prime lens for portraits.

I've been eyeing off Zeiss lenses for some time, and while I think the Zeiss Makro would be an awesome lens, I'm really looking for something with more than 1:1 magnification. The Canon MP-E lens shoots up to 5x magnification! So that lens remains on the stalker list.

But, with some big photography plans in the wings for 2012, I decided that a fast prime would be the better way to go at this stage. I finally settled on the Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/85 lens, and take delivery of it this week! Cue HAPPY DANCE!

According to the Zeiss website, "pinpoints of light in the background envelop the individual and conceal a mysterious message. The Planar T* 1,4/85 lens brings out the best in its subject, while masterfully manipulating both sharpness and soft focus. This classic portrait lens captures people in their surroundings, playing with a range of sharpness, soft focus and contrast effects. Its distinctive circular bokeh is a crucial creative element."

It's a purely manual focus lens, which will be a new experience for me. I use manual focus a bit on my current macro lens, but pretty much stick to auto-focus on the two Canon lenses. I suspect it will force me to slow down when taking my shots - which is a good thing.

Anyway, I'm now waiting (patiently?) for the call from Camera's Direct to let me know this baby is on its way. I've got big plans for this lens...stay tuned for blog post on my photography challenge for 2012!

Memory - going cheap!

Shooting in both RAW and jpeg format consumes a LOT of space of my memory cards, particularly when the combined file size for each image is about 35MG. When I first bought my 5D Mark II, I started with a couple of 8GB cards, which would fit about 230 images. Shoot a wedding from beginning to end, a morning of portraits or a day out in a new city, and those cards fill up pretty quickly!

I had read articles about using larger compact flash cards - the 16GB, 32GB and larger cards all kinda made me nervous about "putting all of my eggs in the one basket" and risking a card failure. An old 4GB card had failed on me a couple of years ago, and while I didn't lose any photos, I chose to stay with 8GB cards.

Speaking with other photographers is always a good thing, and it's interesting to learn where others source the mundane but necessary accessories associated with digital photography. I use only Sandisk cards - and even though it was a Sandisk card that failed, I still believe it's a good brand.

I was referred to Cheap Cheaps, which as the name suggests, pretty much specialises in storage devices of all shapes and sizes. Several months ago, I decided to give a 16GB compact flash card a go, and so far it's been fine - all images present and accounted for. An empty card will fit about 445 images (including the RAW and jpeg variations). I paid about $115 for a 16GB 60MB/s CompactFlash card, and another $10 or so for shipping. Cheap Chips turns around orders really quicky - in fact my order arrived the very next day.

This week, I received my weekly newsletter from B&H Photo in the US, which said their prices on memory cards had plummetted!

I'm SO glad I checked it out, because I found the Extreme Pro version of the 16GB card for USD$65.99, which is nearly half price (and faster) than what I can get from Cheap Chips. With the Australian dollar still being so strong against the Greenback, it was worth it to stock up and pay the $30 in shipping costs.

My new collection of 16GB cards will no doubt get a thrashing during my 3.5 week trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in a couple of months. I'll have about 80GB's worth of card capacity plus my 64GB iPad, which I'm intending to use as a backup.

If you need to stock up on memory cards, check out B&H!

All hail the mighty Canon EOS 5D Mark II!!

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm LOVING the way I can now read a bunch of photography magazines on my iPad, via Zinio.

One of the photography magazines I really enjoy each month is Amateur Photographer, which is published in the UK. This month, it came with a supplement called the 100 Greatest Cameras of All Time.

What a great read! The feature counted down 100 awesome cameras spanning 110 years - the list included film cameras and digital cameras across all brands, as voted by AP readers.

According to AP, its editors created a list of 800 cameras, and then asked its readers to cast a maximum of three votes for the camera they considered to be the greatest of all time. Over a period of four weeks, almost 15,000 votes were cast and a total of 709 models were voted for. The list of 100 was created, and the feature analyses each of them.

It was extremely tempting to race through to the end and see instantly which camera had taken the coveted #1 position...but I restrained myself and wandered through details of the Kodak brownie and some older style Nikon cameras.

I came across the Canon Digital Ixus at #85 - this was my first digital camera, an awesome little machine. I loved how light and small it was - small enough to fit into a handbag and no need to carry around the massive camera bag I now lug everywhere :)

Older model Hasselblad and Leica cameras appeared, and then came the Canon EOS 400D at #70. This was my first DLSR, and was lauded as the first Canon EOS camera to feature built-in sensor cleaning.

As I rolled past the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV at #42 and the 1Ds Mark III at #39, I started to anticpate how high up the list the Canon EOS 5D Mark II would be...still no sign of the Nikon D3X came in at #16 and the new Sony Alpha 77 at #13....then the Nikon D3S, Nikon D700 and Olympus Trip 35...

The Canon EOS 7D appeared at #6 (a camera I'm hoping to buy soon as a second body)....and finally, a few swipes later, the mighty 5D Mark II appeared as THE WINNER - the camera AP readers voted as the Greatest Camera of All Time! Whoohooo!

I loved this camera well before I bought it in 2010, stalked it, tested it, read hundreds of reviews about it, until I finally became a very proud of owner of one last September.

Damien Demolder, the editor of AP wrote of the 5D Mark II: 
"After 150 years of camera production, the 'greatest' should be that which benefits from the culmination of all that has been learned, honed and perfected. Seeing the reaction the EOS 5D Mark II received at its launch, it can hardly be a surprise that it is this pinnacle of technological and design achievement that has been voted the greatest of all time. My congratulations go to Canon, and especially the engineers and designers who worked so hard to bring this example of excellence into the world."
Got to be happy with that! Here's the full page article, with more details about the mighty 5D Mark II. With the newly launched Canon EOS 1DX now on the market, it will be interesting to see the results of next year's Top 100!